The tagline to this movie was “Warning: In this movie, you are the victim,” having now sat through this film I certainly feel victimized, of course, that tagline was actually referring to the fact that the film was released in 3D, which in the 80s was almost a requirement for third installments of a horror franchise, and while this was ostensibly a sequel it has very little to no bearing on the events of the previous two films.
Unlike the previous films, this installment was not based on a book but on real-life investigator Stephen Kaplan, who attempted to prove that the claims the Lutzes made in The Amityville Horror were all part of a hoax, which shouldn’t have been too hard of a job as even the most openminded person could smell the bullshit wafting off that story from a mile away. The movie opens with Kaplan analog John Baxter (Tony Roberts), a reputable journalist who along with his partner Melanie (Candy Clark) exposes a pair of con artists who have been using the Amity House as a setting for their fake seances, but then in a strange turn of events, and by strange I mean contrived, John is convinced by the current owner and hard-done-by real estate agent Clifford Sanders (John Harkins) to buy the house, this is so he can quit his job and start writing the great American novel.
Poor Clifford, while waiting for John, investigates footsteps he hears in the attic and is attacked and killed by a swarm of flies, typical stuff you come to expect from this house, but later when Melanie shows Clifford some photos that she took of the real estate agent earlier they depict him as a rotting corpse. John of course chalks this up to be nothing more than a “startling coincidence” and continues with his plans to move into the Amity house, even setting aside the iconic attic room for his daughter Susan (Lori Loughlin) because why not? The next day John nearly dies in a “malfunctioning” elevator, meanwhile back in casa evil, Melanie is attacked by the demonic forces in the house while she is waiting for John to show up, in this instance, it is gale force winds that pour out of the basement well, but the ever-practical John puts this down to simple hysteria and brushes her fears off as if she were a child. Did I mention that John is an insufferable asshat?
Later, Melanie discovers a demonic-looking face in the blow-ups of pictures she had taken of Sanders but she is killed in another “accident” before she can show her supernatural evidence to John, meanwhile, John’s estranged wife Nancy (Tess Harper) is not too keen on the idea of her daughter spending time in a haunted house and while her paranormal investigator Doctor Elliot West (Robert Joy) tries to allay her fears it all becomes moot when Susan and her friends, including her best friend Lisa (Meg Ryan), have an improvised Ouija party in the “Murder House” and is later found drowned after the group had decided to go out on the water. That Nancy saw a dripping wet Susan silently walking up the stairs after she had supposedly already been drowned causes the distressed mother to believe that Susan is still alive and will return shortly, even refusing to leave the house for Susan’s funeral. This leads to John turning to Doctor West and him setting up a team of paranormal investigators to study the house and hopefully free his daughter’s spirit.
• Any half-competent charlatan would research their client beforehand, the better to fool them with a tailored spectral visit, so their being exposed by journalists like John Baxter isn’t all that impressive as they clearly sucked at their job.
• The owner of the house almost falls into “The Gateway to Hell” and you’d think someone would put up a warning sign or two.
• Photographs working as some kind of precognition of a character’s death had already been well used in Richard Donner’s horror film The Omen.
• John’s near-death experience with a malfunctioning elevator, an event that flies in the face of known physics, has me questioning “Why did the demonic forces not follow through and let him die?” Were these evil entities just pranking poor John or were they saving him for a more gruesome death later?
As was the case with most 3D films of this era, Amityville 3-D fell victim to the trope of having things “Coming at You” with actors constantly sticking or throwing things toward the camera, which looks even worse when watching the film in 2D, but even watch in 3D it’s not all that great as this film has an overly dark look to it and the resulting 3D effect wasn’t good at the best of times and certainly not helped by the muddied darkness. As to the film’s special effects, well, the practical effects on display were decent, the house did blow up really well, but the optical effects are really dated and are laughably bad at times, watching Tess Harper following the supposed spirit of her daughter around the house is a failure on every level.
The film was a critical and financial failure and effectively killed off any plans for further Amityville-inspired films, that is until the home video market exploded and we got a whole slew of these things, but I would love to know what kind of a sequel they would have come up with had this entry been a success, considering the fact this one ended with the house being blown to smithereens I assume it would have been along the lines “Beware the haunted kindling.” Needless to say, the 3D craze was not enough to save this third entry in the Amityville Horror franchise and it remains most notable for the early appearance of a young Meg Ryan and not much else. That this was directed by Richard Fleischer, the man behind such classics as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and the Fantastic Voyage, does make me a little sad but for a bad movie lover, there is some appeal to watching something as silly and trashy as Amityville 3-D.
Amityville 3-D (1983)
Movie Rank - 4.5/10
A film with an asshole for a protagonist has to work twice as hard to get the audience to care and the script to Amityville 3-D failed to create even a modicum of interest in the goings on surrounding this most haunted of houses, compound that with the poor 3D effects and you’ve got a dog of a film that deserves to be tossed down the well into Hell.